If your spouse turns out to be a different person than you expected as you walked down the aisle on your wedding day, can you have the marriage annulled based on fraud? More than one client, tired of the whole divorce process and hoping to just have the whole marriage deemed void, has inquired about trying to get an annulment on the basis of fraud. Fraud is a valid ground for voiding a marriage, but it is not quite as simple to prove up as some disgruntled spouses may hope. The type of fraud sufficient to nullify a marriage must “go to the very essence of the marital relation,” thus the fraud must directly affect the purpose of the deceived party in consenting to the marriage.
The caselaw on this topic provides a veritable soap opera of scenarios where one spouse’s fraud voided the marriage. Examples of fraud warranting an annulment include: where a spouse concealed his or her sterility or existing pregnancy, where a spouse concealed their intent not to live with the other spouse, not to engage in intimate relations with the other spouse, or not to have children despite a promise to the contrary. A judgment of nullity has also been granted where one party’s motive in entering in the marriage was solely to obtain a green card.
There are also many cases in which the court has denied a disappointed, and often creative spouse’s attempt to nullify a marriage based on fraud. Some fact patterns where the court denied to find fraud included: a party’s false representation that he owned a particular business, a party’s representation that he was a “person of means,” and deceit about a party’s chastity or moral character as the court found that those matters are not “vital” to the marital relationship. Courts have also held that there is not sufficient fraud to annul a marriage simply because a party concealed a severe drinking problem, refused to seek employment after contracting the marriage, proved to be a disappointing intimate partner, or turned from a “polite” and “nice” person before marriage to a “dirty,” “unattractive,” and “disrespectful” person after the marriage. One court summed it up by saying that a finding of fraud cannot rest solely on the fact that a spouse “turned from a prince into a frog.”